Training Busy Group Leaders

Training Busy Group Leaders

You know that you need to train your leaders. The problem is half empty training meetings and leaders who are just difficult to reach. How do you train people who will never show up?

Your leaders like most people are inundated with information that further complicates their marginless lives. It’s probably all they can do just to lead a group. I’m not saying this is right. Unfortunately, this is your reality.

I graduated from seminary believing my purpose in life was to conduct meetings. When I started leader training meetings, most would attend. But, over time, the numbers dwindled. In fact, some days I would stand in an empty meeting room shortly after the start time. I would listen to the crickets and question the call of God on my life. Then, one day I had a realization – people hate meetings. But, how do you train your leaders if they don’t want to attend meetings? This led to a new question.

What is Training?

Maybe like me, you equated training with meetings. But, if your people won’t come to meetings, then how do you train them? You have to think outside of meetings.

You can train your leaders through conversations, blog posts, short videos, text messages, coaching, Facebook, and many other methods. You have to push the training out to them. If they won’t come to you, then go to them.

What Do They Want to Learn?

Your leaders don’t all need to know the same things at the same time. While it would be great to think you can equip your leaders by supplying them with answers to all of the questions and issues they will ever face in their groups, the reality is that leaders are only interested in solutions to the problems they are currently facing. The more your training is customized to the leaders’ needs, the more meaningful and memorable your training will be.

How Do You Know What Your Leaders Need to Know?

 

Ask them.

 

How Do You Deliver Individualized Training to Each Leader When They Need It?

Let me back up for a minute. There is some general training that you should deliver to all of your leaders live and in-person to get them started. All of your leaders should have an understanding of what it means to lead a group in your church and the basics of group dynamics. This should happen once during your on-boarding process.

Beyond that, give specific answers to specific issues. Use technology to deliver training that your leaders can access at any time. Whether you use Facebook Live or Youtube, push out short videos to your group leaders on relevant topics (answer the questions they are asking). You’ll need to archive these videos in some way so that if your group leaders don’t have an overly talkative person in their group today, then they’ll have access to the training when that person shows up in their group. You can do the same by writing and categorizing blog posts. You can even offer some training meetings – at the church, over Zoom, or even on a conference line. Whatever format you use, record and archive the content for future use.

In my church in California, I bought two cases of Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Making Small Groups Work. It’s an outstanding book, and it’s still in print. I gave a copy to every one of my leaders for future reference. You could do the same thing with my book, Leading Healthy Groups, which is based on questions that my group leaders asked me. You could even use my book as content for your training videos.

Lastly, there is no adequate substitute for a coach. The best training is delivered by the person who is the most proximate to the leader when a problem occurs. The key is the relationship. Proximity trumps knowledge every time. The coach may not have the best answer, but if they can deliver a good answer in a timely way, then the leader is served well.

Concluding Thoughts

You may find that training leaders is difficult, but it is necessary. The key to equipping busy leaders is to provide training that is proximate, timely, and relevant. The good news with a variety of formats you can reach all of your leaders. You have to choose to move away from ineffective means of training, and maybe try something new. Don’t get stuck in a power struggle over meeting attendance. Take it to them.

How are you effectively training your leaders? Leave your comments below.

Allen White helps Take the Guesswork Out of Groups. We offer books, online courses, coaching groups, and consulting.

What Is Training?

What Is Training?

By Allen White

Are you tired of your leaders not showing up for training? This was a problem we had to face a few years back. What we had discovered was that people hate meetings. If you can’t get them together for a meeting, then how do you train them?

Training by Video.

What are your leaders’ common questions? Don’t assume. Ask your leaders about what they’re dealing with. This could come through coaching, surveys, or casual conversations. Take frequent topics that your leaders need help with and make a 2 minute video. The videos don’t need to be fancy. Use your phone and upload them to Youtube. Then, send the videos out to your leaders. They will pay attention to short videos that are emailed out to them. You’ve got to push it out! Don’t wait for them to come to the meeting or surf over to the website. You’ll be waiting for a long time.

Training through a Coach.

I have blogged for about a month on the importance of coaching. This is your front line for training. As your coaches develop relationships with their leaders and check-in on your new leaders regularly, they will hear about the issues and problems going on in groups. The great thing about coaching is the question can be answered on the spot — in the teachable moment — and no one had to go to a meeting!

Training through Resources.

Put a book in your leaders’ hands. Years ago, I bought 2 cases of Making Small Groups Work by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. I gave one to every one of my leaders. It’s a great resource. I am a little partial to my book, Leading Healthy Groups: A Guide for Small Group Leaders. Either way, give your leaders a ready reference for when they are dealing with an overly talkative group member, group members debating politics, or low attendance at their group meetings.

Annual Retreats

We cut our meetings down to 2 meetings per year. Two! Every Fall we rallied all of our leaders together for a big kickoff. Then, every January, we booked a speaker and a retreat center to take all of our leaders away for a weekend. The leaders paid for their lodging and some of their meals. I budgeted for a speaker. The best part was that they training stuck! Since the weekend was “set apart” from our leaders normal routine, the training stayed with them for a lot longer than we expected.

The most important thing about training is that it needs to be something your leaders want. How do you know what your leaders want? Ask them. Don’t give basic training to experienced leaders. And, don’t lose new leaders by going over their heads.

Think about your training. What is training to you and your leaders


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What is a Healthy Small Group?

What is a Healthy Small Group?

Excerpt from Leading Healthy Groups By Allen White Copyright (c) 2018.

I suppose if you’re going to lead a healthy small group, it would be a good idea to know what a healthy one looks like. Plenty of examples come to mind of unhealthy groups — groups where one member dominates the discussion; groups that have great Bible studies, but don’t live out what they’ve learned; groups that become unto themselves and never attempt to reach others; and groups that just hang out, but really don’t ever move in any direction. But, our focus is on health, not the opposite.

Healthy groups fully accept every member.

Every person matters to God and should matter to your group. Some group members might be a little rough around the edges or challenging to meet with, but none are less important or more important than anyone else. God has a reason for putting them in your group. Groups have to accept people where they are, because they can’t accept them anywhere else, can they? Acceptance is communicated through listening and giving equal time. Acceptance is expressed through intentionally getting to know those who are different from you instead of instantly gravitating toward those you are fonder of. Jesus directed groups this way, when he said, “Love one another” (John 13:34) and “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Jesus modeled this in who he associated with: tax collectors like Matthew; sinners like adulterers and bad hand washers; Samaritans who were racially different; and many others who the religious establishment looked down upon. Acceptance is one of the most precious gifts any person can give another. Healthy groups accept others.

Healthy groups center themselves on God’s Word, the Bible.

One of the key purposes of a healthy group is to become more like Christ. Every group has three powerful resources at their disposal to grow in Christlikeness: the Bible, the Spirit, and the group. Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This transformation takes place through each person’s willingness to surrender, the direction of Scripture, the power of the Spirit, and the support of the group. These ideas will be more thoroughly explained in Chapter 5. Regardless of the type of group you lead, these elements are essential for healthy groups to make disciples.

Healthy groups are serious about helping their members grow.

(and group members are open to receiving help). This could involve encouragement and support to start a good habit or break a bad one. This can also involve confronting sin in the lives of their members. For most people, encouragement is much more appealing that confrontation. While the group should accept people as they are, the group should also love them enough not to leave them there. As the group grows in their relationship with others and their relationship with God, the group cannot shy away from hard things. Healthy groups are serious about help.

Healthy groups live like Jesus was serious about what he said.

When Jesus told his disciples that out of 633 laws in Scripture only two rose above the rest: love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39), he intended for his followers to love God and love others above all else. Jesus wants his followers today to treat “the least of these – the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, and others who lack basic needs” as if they were serving Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46). While taking all of Scripture into account, Jesus wants his disciples to surrender themselves to God and live life in a selfless way. He wants his followers to “go and make disciples,” baptize them, and teach them to obey all Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). What if these weren’t just suggestions for better living? What if these weren’t merely nice platitudes where you could hit a mental “like” button? What if Jesus was serious about what he said? What if he expects his followers to actually do it? Obeying Jesus is a sign of group health.

Healthy groups are on mission.

The group is not just about itself. Groups members should constantly seek out people they and the group can serve. Who is the next person to invite? What neighbor needs help? Where can the group serve together locally or globally? Sometimes the greatest coping strategy for dealing with life’s woes is to focus on someone other than you. When groups align their mission with Jesus’ mission, they benefit from walking in obedience to Jesus’ commands. They benefit those who they serve. But, most of all, they benefit themselves with not only the blessing of obedience, but with a new depth of understanding God’s teaching through their experiences.

Healthy groups multiply.

This is not a popular topic among small groups in North American culture where groups want to stay together forever. I both understand and respect that desire. It’s natural to form a bond and “keep the family together.” But, it’s supernatural to think of others and the groups they will need. I don’t mean to sound spooky, but our connection to God is supernatural. His guidance through prayer and the Bible is supernatural. This makes identifying and developing new leaders possible. This causes hearts to change in favor of every disciple making disciples. To reach the world, and especially the next generation, this sort of selflessness is required. Every group should seek God about its direction and its future.

Your group may find other values in addition to these that you desire to integrate into your group life. You can certainly add these to your Group Agreement. But, don’t replace any of the priorities mentioned here.

That’s a lot to think about. These are things to focus on and strive toward. The accomplishment of all of these things will take a lifetime. But, on the other hand, nothing will ever be accomplished if you don’t start today. Today is both the culmination of what your life has become and the first step toward what you life will be. Your group is a big part of that.

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Why Small Group Coaching Matters

Why Small Group Coaching Matters

By Allen White 

In conversations with small group pastors from some of the largest small group ministries in the country, I’ve learned that many have completely given up on coaching group leaders. Others are on the other extreme and hire coaches. Whether your approach is the “phone-a-friend” method or the metachurch model, here are some reasons coaching is significant.

More Group Leaders Will Quit BEFORE a Study Begins that After.

From the moment someone offers to be a Leader/Host/Friend and start a group, they need a coach. I have seen more potential group leaders stall between the invitation to lead and the start of the study than at any point in the process. Most groups who actually do the first study or first semester will continue on, but groups that fail to start tend to not continue.

It is mission critical for a leader to have a coach from when they say “Yes,” until the end of the study. You may ask, “But, what about the rest of our group leaders?” Here’s the deal, if your other groups have survived without a coach, put that on the back burner and start coaching your new leaders now.

People Hate Meetings.

You’re probably frustrated that your group leaders don’t show up for your training. The short of it is people simply hate meetings, especially when the topics don’t affect them. How do you train your leaders if they won’t come to meetings? Coach them.

Rather than coaches being your spies or your report-takers, have the coaches train the group leaders on what the leaders actually need training on. It’s not cookie cutter. It’s customized to what the leader is currently facing. If you are answering the questions your leaders are asking, then they will become very interested in training. But, what is training?

What if training, especially on-going training, is not a note sheet and a PowerPoint presentation? Training could be a short video emailed out to your leaders. Training could be a short conversation. Training could be solving a current problem. Training should come from the coach.

But, if the coaches do the training, what do small group pastors/ directors do? Train the coaches and build a small group team. By working at a higher level in your small group structure, you can have a greater impact and get much further faster.

You Can’t Successfully Coach More than 8 Leaders Yourself.

Why eight? That’s my number. I tried to coach 30 leaders once. There’s wasn’t much coaching going on. What I discovered is eight is great. In a church under 1,000 adults, your eight might be your coaches or small group team. In a church over 1,000 adults, your eight is definitely a small group team. Just follow the pattern Jethro gave Moses in Exodus 18.

Let’s face it – most small group pastors/ directors wear more hats than just small group ministry. If that’s the case with you, then you certainly can’t coach all of your leaders by yourself. Consider your best and brightest leaders. Could they coach? Let them give it a try.

But, there’s a much bigger reason to invest in coaching – you won’t always have as many groups as you currently have. You’re going to have more! How are you going to serve your group leaders when you have twice as many as you have now? It happened to me in one day! Plan for where you want your groups to grow. Recruit coaches even before you recruit leaders!

Coaching will make all of the difference in both starting and supporting group leaders. No doubt building a coaching structure is the hardest work of small group ministry.

The only thing harder is not having one.

GUEST POST: Michael Mack on 7 Indispensable Elements

GUEST POST: Michael Mack on 7 Indispensable Elements

Just as a plant needs a number of specific elements in its environment in order to grow, Christians need at least 7 vital factors or influences to grow spiritually. Each of these plays a significant part in helping people mature in your small group. Be sure you know your place as a leader with these factors (for instance, you are not the agent of life change!).

Goal: Christlikeness

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Agent: The Holy Spirit

“God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Method: Shepherding

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care …” (1 Peter 5:2).

Environment: Authentic Biblical Community

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Means: By the renewing of our minds

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

Instrument: Application of Scripture

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

Time Frame: Lifetime Process

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Question: How have you seen these factors at work in how people are growing spiritually in your group? Please scroll down and click to comment.

Small Group Leader ToolboxI wrote Small Group Leader Toolbox to provide small group leaders with the resources they need to help them and their groups be effective, grow spiritually, and live out God’s mission for them. This 54-page eBook provides scores of ideas, tips, checklists, how-to’s, assessments, planning templates, and, well … pretty much everything a leader needs to lead a dynamic small group or class.

Get your copy of this eBook now!

For more from Michael Mack, visit http://smallgroupleadership.com/

Leading a Group for the First Time

Leading a Group for the First Time

By Allen White nervous

As a new group leader, there are a few things to think about as you go into your first meeting. In fact, there may be too many things to think about. Focus on the basics and you will have a great first meeting.

  1. Prepare.

As the leader of this group, you don’t have to be the expert. If you’re using video-based curriculum, there’s your expert, so let the video teaching lead the way. Otherwise, just follow along with the instructions in your study guide. But, before the meeting it’s a good idea to review the video and the discussion questions yourself. The videos are only 7-8 minutes long, then just read through the questions.

If you find your group doesn’t have time to complete the entire discussion guide, that’s ok. Prioritize the questions for the time you have available. As you get to know the group, choose questions that are appropriate for the group. If your group has been together for a while, or if your group members are well beyond the basics of parenting, then maybe skip the first question, and go for the second question which is maybe more of an accountability question regarding what they committed to do in the previous meeting.

  1. Pray for Your Group.

If you feel anxious about leading the group or even inadequate, that is perfectly normally, especially if you are leading for the first time. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV). So how often should you pray? Pray every time you feel anxious. God will give you peace.

The video and discussion guide are pretty easy to use. It’s practically a no brainer. But, just because the curriculum is easy to use, doesn’t mean you should go into the meeting “cold” spiritually. Commit the meeting to God. Invite His presence into your meeting, then watch Him work.

  1. Guiding the Discussion – Not a teacher, more of a referee.

While everyone should have a chance to share their thoughts and experiences, as the leader your job is to facilitate a discussion, not to teach a class. You want to make sure everyone gets their word in. You also want to make sure no one dominates the discussion. If someone tends to jump in on every question, politely say, “Now, on this next question let’s hear from a few of you who haven’t had a chance to share.” If the person dominating the meeting continues to do this, then you might need to talk to them outside of the group meeting.

Since you as the leader prepared ahead of time for the lesson, don’t count on all of the group members preparing ahead for this meeting. Remember, they are assigned two extensive lessons in the workbook each week. When you ask the discussion questions, it may take the group members a couple of seconds to put their thoughts together. That’s ok. Don’t feel you that as the leader you need to fill the silence. Let them think a minute.

  1. Praying Together as a Group.

Habits are hard to break and sometimes hard to start. Changing attitudes and behaviors  requires more than just will power. It requires God’s power. At the end of every meeting subgroup into groups of 3-4 people, so everyone can talk about their needs, and then pray together. In a large group, some people won’t share, and it will take a much longer time, so subgrouping is necessary.

Also, limit the prayer requests to what is personally affecting the group member. Now, they may be concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s big toe or something they read about on the internet, but this really isn’t the place to discuss that. As much as you can keep the focus of the prayer time on the changes group members need to make related to their parenting style.

  1. Ask for Volunteers.

Don’t lead the group alone. Just because you are the designated leader, you do not need to do everything for the group. In fact, delegate as much as you possibly can: the refreshments, the home you meet in, and even leading the discussion. If you do this right, you might only need to lead for the first session, then others will lead for the rest.

As group members become more involved in the leadership, they will feel a stronger sense of ownership in the group. Pretty soon the group will go from being “your group” to being “our group.”

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